COLUMN: School choice, vouchers, scholarships – tricky?
As an education advocate, I support public, private and home schools. I understand some children respond better in certain environments. I also value parents’ decisions to select schools in line with personal morals and teachings. In most cases, parents tend to know what’s best for their children. However, I must respectfully address some of the points made by Taylor.
There is a fundamental difference between school choice options like those outlined in the School District Choice Programs legislation (covers such initiatives as single-gender classrooms, Montessori programs, public charter schools, expanded school choice to allow parents to transfer their children to better performing schools) and the current push in South Carolina to amend the law to allow a “qualifying student” to attend independent schools on the backs of taxpayers and the subjection of public school funding.
Taylor and others who support vouchers and education tax credits likely to further hurt public schools, stealthily and strategically use the words “school choice” and “scholarships” to confuse those who may not be completely informed about these issues. Taylor says “this is not a partisan issue, it’s an American issue.” What’s American about surreptitiously convincing people they should be proud to pay taxes for someone who chooses (not forced) to put their child in a private school – where the money to fund expensive tuition would come from the already-reducing public school budgets.
On the surface, it would seem as if all legislators and proponents of vouchers and scholarships truly care about every child, no matter their economic background or behavioral reputation. But, I challenge every tax-paying citizen, parent, and student to look deeper into the issue. Two very important facts when examining the case not to allow legislation to pass that funds private school vouchers/scholarships with public school funds.
1. Public schools must accept any child without discrimination. A child from a two-parent household, single-parent household, reading on grade level, reading well below grade level, with behavior problems, without behavior problems, from a home with annual income of $150,000 or from a home with annual income less than $15,000 a year with four in the home. Public schools must accept them all. Not so in private schools. So, while it may come across as if anyone who gets a voucher will be admitted to the private school of their choice, it is simply not so. Private schools still retain the ability to accept or deny. According to the Council for American Private Education, private schools enroll about 10 percent of all American students.
2. In most cases, parents who are able to send their children to private schools are typically those parents who can afford private tutoring and other support programs for their children. In public schools, more children are unsuccessful because of home life issues rather than “complacency in the public schools” as described by Taylor in his editorial. Every week I volunteer in Aiken County public schools. Most principals and teachers I work with are anything but complacent.
Instead of unfairly criticizing public schools and calling for “a shake-up in complacency,” let’s call for a shake-up in the homes where most of children’s problems reside.
If we all don’t wake up and see what’s really happening, those who can afford private school tuition such as that of the imminent Compass Academy coming to Aiken with tuition ranging from $4,700 to 10,900 a year, we will have again created separate and unequal schools where the have-nots continue to fall behind the haves.
Why can’t we work to incorporate into public schools, where 90 percent of students attend, those elements deemed successful in private schools? This way, all children have access to the best whether they are part of the 56.88 percent of those on free/reduced lunch in Aiken County or in households with annual incomes of $75,000 or more. Then, we undoubtedly demonstrate we care about all children.Donna Moore Wesby is a former Aiken County school board member and is the host of “Education Matters with Donna Moore Wesby” on ASTV channel 95.